Thursday, March 23, 2017

Education no bar to genocide

I want to clarify the point I made in class, that contrary to what we might naturally suppose, societies with widely distributed and sophisticated literary, musical, and linguistic educational systems are not immune to paroxysms of xenophobia and mass killing. Germany under Nazi rule is a striking, though not the only, example of this (see Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners, first published in 1997, which documents in detail that tens of thousands of ordinary and otherwise decent Germans participated vigorously in the holocaust, in an atmosphere of eliminationist antisemitism that their educations did not protect them from).

My point is about the unfortunate limits of learning, not about Germany as such; I don't think Germans are or were different from other people in this respect; in fact to the contrary I think their experience illustrates a difficulty we all face: none of us is ever too learned or sophisticated to presume we are exempt from the danger of being drawn into evil. On Clara's point that many Germans at the time may not have understood the genocidal scope of what was going on, I take no position one way or the other. The extensive documentary evidence shows that many did understand it, and participated anyway, which is what worries me about us, now.

No comments: